The last two former Minneapolis police officers to be sentenced for violating George Floyd’s civil rights are scheduled to learn their penalties Wednesday, which could set in motion another round of plea deal discussions in state court over a killing that sparked a reckoning on racial injustice, the Associated Press reports. J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were convicted in February of two counts of violating Floyd’s civil rights in the 2020 murder. The jury found they deprived the 46-year-old Black man of medical care and failed to stop Derek Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck almost 10 minutes while Floyd gasped for air. Kueng held Floyd’s back, former Officer Thomas Lane held his feet and Thao kept back bystanders, some of whom recorded video that led to worldwide protests. Prosecutors have not made specific recommendations for Kueng and Thao’s sentence, but have requested less time than Chauvin and “substantially” more than Lane. Thao’s attorney is asking for two years; Kueng’s request is sealed. The two got a victory last week when U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson issued rulings that affect how their federal sentences will be calculated and could mean far less prison time. The rulings — particularly one that cross-references their crimes with involuntary manslaughter instead of murder — mean the men head into Wednesday’s hearing with a recommended range of about four to five years. They might have faced a life sentence.
Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor, said one key is if Magnuson determines that Kueng and Thao were “minor” or “minimal” participants in the crime. Magnuson found Lane was a minimal participant, resulting in a lower sentence. Osler said a minor participant would be more culpable. “You have one officer who at least made some effort to change the trajectory, and that’s Lane. You have one most directly involved in the killing of George Floyd, and that’s Derek Chauvin — and then you have these two in the middle,” Osler said. The potential for lower sentences for Kueng and Thao raises questions about whether they will consider a plea deal or risk trial Oct. 24 in state court, where they face counts of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Osler said once the men know what their federal sentence is, they will likely seek a plea deal on the state charges that won’t exceed the federal sentence and will let them serve the sentences concurrently.